60 years ago, on 29 March 1955, Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Danish Prime Minister Hans Christian Hansen signed the Bonn‑Copenhagen Declarations which reaffirmed the effective civil liberties of the minority groups on both sides of the German‑Danish border. They serve as the foundation of a successful and active policy on minorities which now enjoys worldwide recognition. This article by Foreign Ministers Steinmeier and Lidegaard was published in a series of newspapers in the Danish‑German border region on 26 March 2015.
Relations between Germany and Denmark have never been better than they are today. Our minorities on both sides of the border have played an outstanding role in making this the case. The basis for this success story was established on 29 March 1955 with the Bonn‑Copenhagen Declarations on the rights of the German and Danish minorities. Since then we have worked consistently to further develop our policy on minorities. The ideas and initiatives which come from the minorities themselves and the regions that they live in have made a significant contribution to this success. That is why Germans and Danes alike have good reason to come together to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Declarations with a ceremony in Berlin on 26 March.
Denmark and Germany cooperate closely in nearly all fields. Yet it is the minorities who give German‑Danish relations their very special character. They bring our neighbourhood and integration to life and make its voice heard on both sides of the border. Flensburg is well on the way to becoming the first bilingual German‑Danish city.
The starting point for this development continues to be the freedom to practice either German or Danish national customs and traditions. There are state‑funded German and Danish kindergartens and schools which have the right to hold their own examinations. The Danish minority in Germany is exempt from the 5% minimum threshold – the South‑Schleswig Voters Union is currently represented in both the Regional Parliament and the Land Government in Kiel.
All of this goes to show that an active policy on minorities presents a win‑win situation for all involved. The minorities benefit from special protection, everyone benefits from stronger cultural exchange and new economic opportunities and the governments benefit from a solid foundation for their political partnership. All in all this creates the framework for new, ambitious projects such as the Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link or the further expansion of the Jutland corridor.
We are proud of the fact that our joint efforts have come to enjoy worldwide recognition as the German‑Danish minority model. Equally, we know that it cannot be exported to resolve all conflicts between minorities – the circumstances of individual cases are simply too diverse. That said, all successful policies on minorities are underpinned by one fundamental view, namely that violence and pressure must always be eschewed in favour of understanding and a deeply‑rooted spirit of cooperation. We want to share our positive experiences with others who are currently confronted with problems similar to those we faced 60 years ago. We are doing so for example through the European Centre for Minority Issues which opened in 1996 in Flensburg as well as within the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the EU, where we jointly champion our values and convictions and offer our support.
However, given that German‑Danish relations are problem‑free, when Danish and German foreign ministers meet their discussions are never confined to bilateral matters, rather they tend to focus mostly or even predominantly on foreign and European policy issues. As close partners within the European Union in the fields of growth, social justice, the internal market, free trade, climate, energy, and as partners who have great trust in one another, in these difficult times we would like to safeguard European achievements and to take them forward. We share the will to work towards unity amongst all EU countries, even in areas where interests differ. We are naturally thinking of the conflict in Ukraine here, too. We will continue to actively strive to protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine and to stabilise the country’s economy. A united response from the EU to Russia’s actions is crucial here.
We are also thinking of the challenge of protecting the European project of peace and freedom against extremism both within the Union and elsewhere. Just as after the terrible attack in Paris, people, including in Germany, felt a great closeness with the Danes and our fellow Jewish citizens following the attacks in Copenhagen, in which terrorism and fanaticism once again lashed out at freedom of opinion and diversity in Europe. We must do everything we can to ensure that all people in Europe feel safe from the threat of terrorism; that applies to our engagement to combat extremism and terror outside Europe’s borders, too.
The close partnership of understanding between Germany and Denmark is open to others. Together with our Finnish and Swedish counterparts we set up a new dialogue forum between our four countries in Copenhagen at the end of last year. In addition to our close regional and cultural bond we share important core beliefs and a similar view of many current affairs issues. We thus agreed to meet at least once a year to seek political responses to some of the most pressing issues of our time and to provide impetus to Europe as a whole.
Today we see that former border countries which in the past often suffered the ramifications of friction between states are increasingly becoming birthplaces of innovative partnerships in Europe. Anyone who recognises the potential of minorities promotes individual, economic and political openness. Indeed, thanks to our minorities, Germany and Denmark are closer today than they have ever been. But we are far from finished; there is potential to do more and we want to tap into that potential together.